Irish novelist Sally Rooney, 27, has become the youngest author ever to win the Costa Novel Award, triumphing for her second novel Normal People (Faber), a coming-of-age love story the judges said "will electrify any reader".
Celebrating "the most enjoyable books" across five different categories, the judges of the Costa Book Awards 2018 also selected Stuart Turton (The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Bloomsbury), Bart van Es (The Cut Out Girl, Fig Tree), J O Morgan (Assurances, Jonathan Cape) and Hilary McKay (The Skylarks’ War, Macmillan Children's Books) to be the respective winners of the prizes' First Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book awards.
Following Rooney's 2017 debut Conversations with Friends, which also broke ground by making her the first Irish winner of the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, the Dubliner's acclaimed second novel has amassed a growing number of accolades. As well as being longlisted for 2018's Man Booker Prize, Normal People was named Eason Book Club Novel of the Year and Waterstones’ Book of the Year and crowned the critics’ choice at the end of last year. On course to be adapted by Rooney herself for BBC Three, the novel focuses on the relationship between two young people who despite coming from the same small town in the west of Ireland are in other ways "from very different worlds". The judges hailed it an electrifying and "trailblazing" novel about modern life and love.
Fending off competition from the likes of Meet Me at the Museum author Anne Youngson, Turton meanwhile has scooped the Costa First Novel Award for his "genre-busting" and "completely unputdownable" high-concept murder mystery, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. The judges said they'd been "stunned" to find the novel was a debut, praising it an "exciting and accomplished novel, planned and plotted perfectly". Described by his publishers as a mash-up between "Gosford Park" and "Groundhog Day" by way of Agatha Christie and "Black Mirror", the tech journalist's intricately plotted novel featuring time loops and body swaps was originally bagged by Bloomsbury in a hotly contested auction ahead of 2016's Frankfurt Book Fair. Since then, it has gone on to sell in 20 territories and been optioned for TV by House Productions.
The remaining categories - biography, poetry and children's - have been won by titles whose narratives between them span two world wars and the Cold War.
Van Es was named the unanimous winner of 2018's Costa Biography Award for The Cut Out Girl, a "gripping" true story of a young Jewish girl in Holland during World War Two, who hides from the Nazis in the homes of an underground network of foster families - one of them the author’s grandparents. With the memoir not only providing an account of holocaust survival but the horror of Dutch wartime collaboration, the panel called the author's investigation into his family's wartime history "the hidden gem of the year ... shedding light on some of the most urgent issues of our time".
Inspired by family history also, Morgan takes home the Costa Poetry Award for Assurances, a polyphonic book-length poem based on the experiences of his father as an RAF officer when, during the Cold War, he was involved in maintaining Britain’s Airborne Nuclear Deterrent. The judges said the work, examining the nuclear stalemate still in place today, had "dazzled" them with its "originality and inventiveness".
The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay, about the loves and losses of a family growing up against the backdrop of World War One, has claimed the Children's Book Award. The novel currently has a 5/5 star rating on Books in the Media, a website which aggregates book reviews. The win marks the second time McKay has won the prize, having triumphed more than a decade ago with Saffy's Angel in 2001.
The five winning authors each scooped £5,000. They were selected from 641 entries and will now vie for the ultimate prize - 2018's Costa Book of the Year - which is due to be announced on 29th January. At the same time, the winner of the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the general public, will also be announced. Voting is open until Friday (11th January).